Warning: in his journalism nom de guerre, A-E is an Army veteran and consequently far from objective about the following accusations against the Veterans Administration. That’s the traditional function of this sheet known as the Tribune Opinion Page, of course.
Everyone’s heard the disgusting stories about Veterans Administration stagnation, how too many VA hospitals intentionally camouflaged time that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans awaited appointments with medicos, how dozens apparently died during those criminal months-long delays.
The obvious way to solve this moral catastrophe is with a change in leadership: First, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s gotta resign. An effective secretary would have flown to Phoenix the second accusations about deaths and delays broke. He should have called a gathering similar to what small New England towns routinely congregate when substantive issues are afoot: a town meeting. Phoenix area VA outpatients and those whom the system snubbed would have expressed their outrage, Shinseki would have shown he was taking charge while promising that VA heads from hospital administrators to admissions clerks were going to roll.
Then he would have traveled to San Antonio and other facilities to listen to the fury of more veterans and their families.
What did the secretary opt for instead? He told Congress he was "made as hell." Remember that old first-grade saw about sticks and stones? The President’s chief of staff then said President Obama was "madder than hell." That’s more evidence that some so-called leaders paid attention in grade school but, unfortunately, more signs of tragically ineffectual leadership.
A-E will claim column privileges and state he’s "maddest as hell." Those impotent statements will achieve just as much as fictional television anchor Howard Beale did in his speech from the film Network in 1976. Or VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The Congressional hearings where Shinseki admitted his anger achieved what most congressional hearings achieve: Yards of television footage, news anchor bloviating comments, pages of newspaper coverage …and nothing else. Certainly nobody reported the hearings decreased waiting times for recent veterans who are sadly at the end of the line for claims.
The President visited troops in Afghanistan and that was noble. But the president near the beginning of his first term promised a unified Pentagon-VA electronic medical records system that would speed soldiers’ records from active duty to the VA. A billion dollars and five years later, the much-heralded system is still lost in the internal bickering between the two giant bureaucratic sloths. Recent reports predict the system will be implemented in 2016. Anyone who believes that would fall for the old bureaucratic line "We’re here from the Federal government to help you."
Remember when former U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey moved to New York City to become president of The New School university? Took him fewer than 10 minutes to change his address with a telephone call to his bank. The VA receptionist who answered Kerrey’s telephone call was hostile so the supervisor told him to come to the VA. You get the point: the process with unwilling and obdurate VA staff took Kerrey 12 days to change his address.
Kerrey is a decorated Navy Seal and Medal of Honor recipient who lost part of a leg in Viet Nam.
If the VA stonewalls a war hero who is a former United States Senator with the name recognition of Bob Kerrey, how helpful will the bureaucracy be with an enlisted man or woman who was shot near Bagrum Air Force Base in Afghanistan, presidential destination or not? We and thousands of returning combat veterans unfortunately already know the answer to that nagging and vital question.
Post-script: A-E has relied on VA facilities in Bath and Buffalo and found staff at both facilities unfailingly cooperative and helpful.
This former Army drafted enlisted man lives in Canisteo.